(continued from here. We remain in Chapter One, I’ll post its conclusion tomorrow.)
She went sprawling back amid the icy-rimmed puddles and concrete covered with slush and the marks of the garbage truck that had come through this morning. Her sign flew through the air like a kite, with a funny little flutter to it as it spun, red letters flashing at a certain angle as though in appeal.
Being short, she didn’t have far to go, but a grunt of air still escaped her. She didn’t waste a second on her back, but started scrambling to her feet, emitting a sound that wasn’t coherent, just a high-pitched song of rage.
I looked up to see two cameras catching all this. The other protesters stood there with cell phones out and pointed, grins on their faces confirming that they had caught the push. My heart sank and I half-closed my eyes.
That was a tactical mistake, because four feet of anger hit me in the side, making it my turn to go down. The back of my head thudded against the steel security door behind me, so loud I knew they’d hear it inside. It hurt. A lot.
Maybe I could have salvaged the situation even at that point, but it was too late. A red haze had surrounded me, and I’d launched myself at the protester, instincts so finely honed by a half decade of monster hunting that she didn’t stand a chance. My foot hit her solar plexus, drove her back with a ludicrous startled expression on her face. She hit the brick wall six feet away with a solid, meaty impact and slid downward, sagging.
Shit shit shit went through my head, and I started forward to see if she was all right, only to find more protesters between us. They clearly thought I was out to do her more harm. I held my hands out, trying to signal non-aggression, but the lead one, just as short as the one I’d kicked — a brother or cousin, maybe? — wasn’t buying it. A glance at the mouth of the alley confirmed that the digital cameras were still rolling.
This was going to be on YouTube in seconds. The push part might already be there.
The security door clanged open behind me, and everyone turned. My boss stood there, sleeves rolled, looking as usual like a walking Abercrombie and Fitch ad. Those looks had served him pretty well — he wasn’t that much older than I was but his weekly check bore a sum representing a good six or seven pay grades more for sure.
Seriously. Brad Manley (Cat: okay, I know it’s a bad name, but for me that stuff usually comes in a later draft. Be glad his name’s not Mr. Dick.) had almost every woman and a few of the men salivating over his 6’6” of lanky muscle and Midwestern good looks.
It was too bad he was such a total asshole.
As evidenced by his failure to exclaim, “My dear Miss Drakar, are you all right?” upon seeing the scene. Instead he bellowed, “Drakar, what the f…” before catching sight of the cameras and managing to rein in his last word, “…friggin’ Hades is going on out here?”
“She attacked me!” the protester who’d incited all of this screamed, pointing at me.
I started to snap back a retort, then bit my tongue.
Actually, she had the right of it. I shouldn’t have pushed her.
Manley could see the guilt in my eyes. He stepped aside and gestured me in. I slunk back into the building. From looking at Youtube later, I can confirm that the protesters caught every minute of it.
But at the time I was still clinging to some shreds of optimism. Pretty, sparkly shreds that vanished in a poof when Manley told me to clean out my desk.
“You can’t do this!” I protested. “I’m the best agent you’ve got!”
“You and I both know we’re negotiating to have the Supernaturals police their own,” Manley sneered. “They’re tired of having you and the other buffy-wannabes running around staking vampires and taking DNA samples from werewolves in order to track down unsolved crimes.”
Even sneering, he looked handsome. In a douchebaggy way.
He turned, and I snapped after him, “You haven’t heard the last of me!”
Yup, that’s me, mistress of a thousand witty lines. Another deathless gem, which Manley didn’t even bother to acknowledge before his office door closed after him.
Some of the other employees were giving me sympathetic looks, except for Fred Raistlin and Jessica Dorn, both of whom had gotten passed over in order for me to get the shiny new promotion and a pay-grade bump that I’d gotten last month. I was starting to think that maybe that hadn’t been such a good thing. At the time I know people were muttering about my over zealousness making it harder on every one else and by a few looks, that thought was occurring to more than a few again.
Still, they made a good show of things. Coraline, the receptionist hired only for her looks, brought me a cardboard box to pack my belongings into. She perched on a nearby chair, snapping her gum and chattering away as I transferred my desk contents to the box.
Three years hard work all confined to three cubic feet, exactly a foot per year.
My nose was running and my eyes were hot, but I’d be damned if I’d cry in front of all of them. Instead I listened to Coraline chatter away about my possibilities, each more absurd than the last.
“I bet they’d pay big for a biography of some kind, you know, like Memoir of a Vampire Hunter…”
“I signed the same non disclosure clause that everyone else did,” I said.
“You could start a radio show and talk to people about what the supernaturals are really like…”
“There’s plenty of those figures out there,” I said. “That chick on NPR, for instance.”
“You could freelance as a buffy.”
“Buffy-ing’s illegal,” I said. “And I don’t approve of it, either. Too many untrained people out there getting encouraged to run into things so far above their head that they’re drowned before they even start.”
She fell silent, watching me put the last of my good luck charms atop the pile of folders and books. One maneki neko cat, one slice of fossilized ammonite, one tapering spiral of unicorn horn, souvenir of my first big bust. Mounted in such a way that you could caress the mother of pearl surface, draw your finger around and around the hypnotic spiral. It was a comforting feel and I found myself doing it, refusing to put the horn in the box but instead standing there in the office looking around at a loss while my fingers traced that long coil.
What was I going to do? From the moment that the Supernatural World had revealed itself to humans, I’d known what my calling would be: to work with them somehow. And an undergraduate degree that combined folklore and biology was a natural. It didn’t hurt that I was an athlete, although that was something that hadn’t come half as easily as the studying had. Still, I’d managed to pass the government training program and I’d been with the Bureau from day one. A lot of people here couldn’t say the same thing, including my soon-to-be-former boss.
Who chose that moment to poke his head out his office door. Spotting me, he scowled, and Fred, who’d been starting over to talk to me, reversed course and headed towards the water cooler instead.
“You’re out, Drakar!” he shouted. “You’ll get your paperwork in the mail. And I won’t be sorry to see you go, you’ve been a pain in my ass since the first day I came here.”
“Sorry doing the right thing has proved such an inconvenience,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Is that what you’re calling it,an inconvenience? I have to fill out more paperwork on you than any other person in this office, Drakar. Or had to, as I can say now.”
He sneered, and it didn’t look quite as pretty on him as it usually did.
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